If the old adage of “crime doesn’t pay” has a single embodiment in estate planning, that embodiment is the slayer rule. Florida, like almost every other state, has a specific law that prevents people who kill others from receiving an inheritance from those whom they have killed. Commonly known as the slayer rule or the slayer law, it isn’t an issue that people commonly encounter in the estate planning process, but it is one that you might want to know little bit about.
Slayers and Inheritances
The slayer rule began as a principle in English common law. It effectively said that no one can inherit from a person they kill. Though this seems like a fairly straightforward idea, it was an idea that, though rarely applied, effectively prevented princes, princesses, and other members of the nobility from inheriting titles, lands, and possessions from parents they might want to kill for the express purpose of receiving their inheritances.
The rule not only prevents people directly involved in the death of others from inheriting from the deceased, but it also prevents those who were complicit in the killings, assisted the murder, or who, in any other way, played a role in the death from inheriting.
Slayers in Florida
In Florida, the slayer rule is codified in a specific statute. That statute says that anyone who unlawfully and intentionally kills someone, or participates in procuring that person’s death, cannot inherit from the deceased person. Further, it says that you can be prevented from inheriting if you are convicted of the killing of the person from whom you would have inherited, or if it can be shown by the “greater weight of evidence” that you killed that person or played a role in the killing.
The phrase “greater weight of evidence” is important here because it imposes a civil standard in an otherwise criminal matter. What we mean by this is that there are two different levels of evidence that have to be met under the law, one of which typically applies in criminal cases, and one which typically applies in civil cases.
In a criminal case, the state has to show “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the accused is guilty of the crime. In a civil case, however, the person filing a lawsuit only has to show that the other party has done something wrong by showing a “preponderance of the evidence.”
The preponderance of the evidence standard, also referred to as the “greater weight of evidence” standard, simply requires that the person making the accusation show evidence that makes it more likely than not that the other person is guilty. So, when applied to the slayer rule, this essentially means that a person doesn’t have to be convicted of the crime of killing someone else, but it simply has to be shown that he or she is more likely guilty than not.